Mark it in your calendars: tomorrow (10 October) is World Mental Health day – and it might be our most important yet.
The event calls on us all to rally together, to show support for better mental health and to take small steps to improve our mental wellbeing. And given the year we’ve had, our minds could all do with a little extra TLC.
It’s good to have a meaningful date to unite us. But, equally, it’s also important to remember that mental health problems aren’t a once-a-year occasion. For many of us, it’s a 24/7 reality.
In any given year, one in four of us will experience mental health problems, ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But just as a lack of physical illness doesn’t mean we’re fit and healthy, a lack of mental health problems doesn’t necessarily mean we’re ‘mentally well’ either.
Anxiety, loneliness, stress… We all have lots of complicated emotions swirling around our brains at the moment. And it’s no surprise: 2020 has been a tough one.
Between COVID-19 and lockdown, the past few months have brought endless challenges – from health worries and financial instability to cancelled plans and social isolation. And that’s to say nothing of those who grieved a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.
We all talk a good game about mental health – and this year, more than ever, it’s become a bit of a buzzword. As you scroll through your social media feeds or flick through your favourite magazines, you’re probably overloaded with messages calling on us to fight the stigma and raise awareness of mental health. Or maybe you’re inundated with bloggers practising self-care.
But when we strip away the jargon and look closer, what does it actually mean and why is it important?
Benefits of good mental health
When we think of good physical health, we may conjure up a picture of someone with toned abs, peachy cheeks and gleaming white teeth. But what does good mental health look like, and what benefits does it bring?
Someone with good mental health isn’t always on cloud nine. We all have moments when we feel low, stressed or frightened – and that’s completely normal. Most of the time those feelings pass like clouds drifting through the sky. It’s when they linger and cast a shadow over our day-to-day lives is when we should worry – that’s when it can develop into a more serious problem.
Someone who cares for their mental health can manage the ups and downs that life brings. They can feel the overwhelming hurt and sadness that comes with the death of a loved one, a job loss or relationship woes. But they don’t let these feelings engulf them. Instead, they’re able to practice self-compassion and validate their feelings. They’re able to deal with the curveballs life brings and they’re able to work through their emotions.
When we have a positive sense of mental wellbeing, we’re present and grounded in the moment. We take risks, we’re creative and we’re able to find joy in the little things. It also has a ripple effect on our friendships and relationships.
Every relationship has its ups and downs. But if you have good mental health to count on, it sure is a whole lot easier. Plus, you’re likely to create connections where you feel supported, appreciated and loved.
Chances are, you’re already taking steps to nurture your mental health. You just might not realise it yet. But, just in case, here are some tips to help guide you in the right direction…
How to take care of your mental health
Yoga, park runs, walking to work, eating healthily… It might be easy to list off the ways we look after our bodies. But what about our minds?
There’s no magic wand, no secret pill or potion… If you want to reap the benefits of good mental health it takes time, patience and a little bit of graft. But if you make small, positive changes and make them habitual, you could become a better version of yourself – a healthier, happier you.
Here are just a few simple ways you can care for your mental wellbeing:
Open up to a close friend or family member
Many of us tend to stuff our emotions down. We might not want to burden anyone or think that other people have it worse. Or perhaps we find it difficult opening up. But burying our head in the sand helps no one.
Pretending everything’s fine may work in the short-term but, inevitably, you’ll have to untangle the same messy issues later down the line. If anything, it’s best to tackle them sooner rather than later before they spiral out of control.
Let’s face it: talking about mental health can be hard. But there’s strength in vulnerability. And just one conversation could be all it takes to get the ball rolling. Whether it’s your mum, your best mate or your boss, being open about how you’re feeling is the first and most important step.
Find a therapist
There are many myths and misconceptions about therapy but perhaps one of the most harmful is the idea that you need to be at breaking point before you make it to your therapist’s couch.
It’s better to think of therapy as a mental health check-up. Just like you might go to the doctor to keep an eye on your weight or blood sugar, therapy is a great way to make sure your mind is ticking along okay. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure – and it rings particularly true when we’re talking about our mental wellbeing.
Therapy offers a safe non-judgemental space for you to explore your thoughts and emotions. Maybe you’re having trouble sleeping or suffer from anxiety. Or perhaps you just need guidance on how to set boundaries in your life. Whatever’s on your mind, therapy is a great place to make sense of it all.
Talk to your GP
We’re all used to talking to our GPs about even the most embarrassing aches and pains. But if you’ve never opened up about your mental health before, it can seem a little nerve-wracking. Maybe you feel like your doctor will judge you or that you’re wasting their time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s important to remember that they’re trained professionals. It’s their job to help, and they deal with mental health issues every single day. So be as open and honest as you can.
Try some self-care practices
When we think of self-care, we might imagine long soaks in bubble baths and soothing herbal teas. But, as wonderful as those things are, self-care is about so much more than that.
If you don’t know where to start, we’ve created ‘Self-care’ to give you a helping hand. Written by expert psychologists and based on real-life therapy techniques, this library of skills and coping mechanisms is designed to help you make real and lasting change.
In the meantime, here are a few extra tips to get you started…
For being free and simple to practice, deep breathing is a pretty magical self-care exercise. We inhale and exhale every day without giving it a second thought. But slow, deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system – the part of our nervous system that promotes feelings of calm. Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds and repeat as needed.
Do you feel like you’re going about your day in autopilot mode? Squeezing in just a few minutes of mindful meditation a day can really help you feel present in the moment. Find a quiet spot and give it a go. What better way to start the day than by checking in on how you’re feeling and setting a positive intention for yourself?
Schedule ‘me time’
Between work and family commitments, finding ‘me’ time becomes trickier and trickier as we get older. But it’s not impossible.
Make time to do something that’s just for you. It could be as simple as tuning in to your favourite podcast, getting lost in a new page-turner or tending to your vegetable patch.
Create a self-soothing kit
A scented candle, an adult colouring book, cosy socks, your favourite chocolate bar…. These are just a few of the items you might find in a ‘self-soothing kit’.
By bundling items that stimulate your senses and help ground you in the present moment, you can create an at-home sanctuary where you can escape to when life’s stresses and anxieties get a bit too much.
Remember it’s a continuous journey
When you’re in a negative loop, it can be hard to imagine a time when you didn’t feel that way. Maybe you feel like a dark cloud has been hanging over you for a while now. Or that you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. You’re not alone.
The journey to good mental health isn’t always plain sailing. But you’re doing so well. You’ve taken the first step… Now keep going.